How We think About People
I think, that we all, unknowingly most of the time, essentially approach our thinking of other people with three base premises. Obviously, these premises are very basic and much more complexity is involved. Furthermore, we don’t distribute the premises evenly to all people we encounter. This is in part because of our own innate biases (we all have them), stereotype assumptions, cultural norms, etc. All around though, I think that recognizing these base premises can help us with the potential to engage in more proactive and meaningful situations with other people. The three premises I think can be best summed up as Optimist, Pessimist, and Realist (roughly corresponding with the general philosophies they encompass). Let me provide more thoughts on each:
The Optimist premise in dealing with other people is the base premise that most people are well meaning and acting with intents to do good and be beneficial members of society and agents in the world. The upside of this premise is that it basically strives to give everybody a fair chance to prove their self-worth and demonstrate all that is great about humanity. The downside, however, is that this premise often results in disappointment, because all too often other people take actions that prove them to be less than the optimist hopes them to be. While the optimistic premise sounds nice, and has an ideal quality to it (think how nice it is to tell yourself “I think all people are basically good.”) it is constantly at risk of being perceived as naive and ignorant of broader realities. Furthermore, when taken to too much of an extreme and adherence, it risks being taken advantage of by those who will exploit a loophole of somebody who wants to assume the best of everybody.
The Pessimist premise is the opposite of the Optimist one, in that it is a base premise that all people are shitty and horrible. This is a very cynical premise, and obviously, can cause major complexities toward being able to deal with others on a good basis. Any good perceived after this premise has been applied, is quickly and cynically concluded to be a fluke at best, and an ulterior motive at worst. I think that, in many ways, this is the easiest of the three premises to rely on, because it is essentially starting in the defensive position. However, it is problematic and assumptive, and, in truth not always very enlightened (cynicism is cheap and easy). Often, it is a product of frustration and anger. Furthermore it is bound to bring out the worst of innate bias and stereotyping. Over applying this premise is pretty much a guarantee at having a poor social life.
It would be easy to say that the Realist premise is just the average of the above two but I think that that really undervalue it. Like a realist world view, this base premise is the most difficult to achieve consistently,but likely provides the best insight and opportunity for further engagement with people, without the risk of being hurt or offended in the long run. The Realist premise is basically affirming that people are very complex individual organisms that function as a part of a very complex society, culture, species, etc. People do and say things for a wide variety of reasons, assumptions are made, beliefs are held, and there is really no simple or certain formula for knowing or predicting it all. We can be be inspiring in our altruistic tendencies at one moment and then shockingly selfish in the next. Realism knows this complexity, and is willing to give the chances for the best to shine through, but is also able to recognize and cope with the realities of the worst. Most challenging of all about this premise though is that it relies on a balance of knowing when it is best to forgive and when it is time to draw a final line. Realism always teeters on a fine edge, require constant attention and adjustment to make it usable.
I don’t know what made me think about this . . . like at all. But, I’ve enjoyed the thinking and the writing. Personally I think I try really hard to be a realist. I really believe that I want to give everybody a fair chance. I try my best to temper my personal bias, to quiet the background noise that surround other people (we all have background noise; rumors, hearsay, fame, etc.), and let the actions and ideas of an individual stand on there own. I feel like I am quite good at dealing with most people. While it would be awesome if I could like everybody I meet and deal with, I simply don’t, but I work hard to minimize the number of people I truly dislike, and feel like I’ve been pretty successful in that regard.
Dealing with people can be damn tough . . . your thoughts?
~ by Nathaniel on January 23, 2013.